About a month ago, I watched Scott Hanselman’s awesome productivity
talk, It’s not what you read, it’s what you ignore, and it spurred me to take a hard look at my daily
Internet usage. As a result I’ve finished several projects that were previously languishing on my to-do list,
and I’ve improved my focus.
One key thought that I took from Scott’s presentation is the importance of being intentional about the content
I consume—tweets, blog posts, videos. Distractions can often give you the same “I’m awesome” jolt that you’d
get from creating something, only without the trouble of actually having to put out any effort. Look, I
finished all of the posts in my Google Reader feeds!
While not harmful in and of itself, consumption can be a seductive productivity drain.
Inspired by his call to action, I took several concrete steps to change my consumption habits, including:
- Installing a browser extension in Chrome that limits me to 25 minutes a day on a list of distracting sites,
such as Google Reader, Twitter, Amazon and eBay. Why 25 minutes? It was an arbitrary number, but it’s enough
time to plow through my feeds without feeling overly pressured by a ticking clock.
- Setting up RescueTime to track how I spend my computer time.
- Unfollowing some noisy and/or irritating people on Twitter (sorry!).
- Trimming the number of blogs I subscribe to in Google Reader.
Since taking these steps, I haven’t always read every tweet in my timeline. But I have:
- Finished tweaking the template on this blog to make it presentable, gotten Disqus comments working, added a
contact form (still a bit of a work in progress), and migrated all of my old posts from WordPress and Tumblr.
- Found time to write several new blog posts. My goal is to write a post a day for 30 days, and so far I’m
just over a week in and still going.
- Created a working prototype of a Windows Phone app that adds cards to Trello, which I plan to
release in the Marketplace sometime soon.
- Learned some awesome new tools, such as Sublime Text 2 and Beyond Compare, that make me happy every
time I open them.
- Written several small scripts and a Chrome bookmarklet that make my daily life just a little bit better.
- Figured out how to run most of my favorite dev tools out of Dropbox, which simplifies setting
up new virtual machines and repaving my computer.
- Cleaned up my lists of current and someday/maybe projects, gaining clarity about my goals for the near future.
None of the sites I’ve restricted are inherently worthless: I use Twitter and Google Reader primarily to keep
up with my fast-changing profession and make connections with other programmers. Amazon and eBay are likewise
essential. But it was too easy to open Google Reader and look up an hour later to realize that I hadn’t
accomplished anything, especially if I wasn’t feeling particularly sharp.
I still visit my restricted sites, but when I do it’s with a sense of purpose. Now I treat these sites the
same way I treat my e-mail inbox–as a queue of inputs. I power through as quickly as possible using keyboard
shortcuts, making quick decisions about whether each item is important enough to devote some small fraction of
my life to. Will it help me work faster, understand something I’ve been wrestling with, solve a difficult
problem? If so, I star it in Google Reader and it gets sent to my Instapaper account
automatically via an IFTTT recipe.
When I have a few minutes to do some reading, I open up my Instapaper account, where a filtered collection of
interesting and personally valuable articles awaits.
In addition to the things I’ve crossed off my list, I’ve also had the satisfaction of watching traffic climb
on my blog in Google Analytics, and I’ve heard from several readers via the now-working comments. And as it
turns out, it’s a lot more satisfying to help someone solve a problem than it is to read every single
post on DYAC.